La Paz whose full name is Nuestra Señora de La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia and the second largest city in the country (in population) after Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Bolivia has two capitals - while the official capital of Bolivia is Sucre and it is the seat of Justice, La Paz has more government departments, hence the "de facto" capital of the country. At a elevation of roughly 3,650 m above sea level, Laz Paz is also the highest de facto capital city in the world.
La Paz is built in a canyon created by the Choqueyapu River (now mostly built over), which runs northwest to southeast. The city sits in a bowl-like depression surrounded by the high mountains of the altiplano. As the city continues to grow, it climbs over the hills, the buildings clinging impossibly to the mountain side. The sight from the air as one flies into La Paz is incredible. “First, one sees the sprawling shantytowns of El Alto, slowly giving way to the sight of La Paz itself, clinging tenuously to the sides of what looks like a large gash in the earth”, writes WikiTravel.
Overlooking the city is towering triple-peaked Illimani, which is always snow-covered and can be seen from several spots of the city, including from the neighbor city of El Alto.
The geography of La Paz, in particular the altitude, reflects society: the lower areas of the city are the more affluent areas. While many middle-class residents live in high-rise condos near the center, the houses of the truly affluent are located in the lower neighborhoods southwest of the Prado. And looking up from the center, the surrounding hills are plastered with makeshift brick houses of those less economically fortunate. The satellite city of El Alto, in which the airport is located, is spread over a broad area to the west of the canyon, on the Altiplano.
La Paz is an important cultural center of Bolivia. The city hosts several cathedrals belonging to the colonial times, such as the San Francisco Cathedral and the Metropolitan Cathedral, this last one located on Murillo Square, which is also home of the political and administrative power of the country. Hundreds of different museums can be found across the city, the most notable ones on Jaén Street, which street design has been preserved from the Spanish days and is home of 10 different museums. La Paz is renowned for its unique markets, very unusual topography, and traditional culture.
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